In fact, it really hurts. It is not glorious by any means. It is tragic. I write this on the heels of the evil that took place at the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, and if anything can be shown from these past two week it is that persecution is a scary and painful thing to endure.
It feels like attacks against churches are steadily increasing in the USA: Texas (2017), Nashville (2017), Charleston (2015), and Colorado Springs (2007). Many friends of mine are asking if this is the beginning of a new and violent era against the body of Christ here in America. To be honest, none of us really know for sure. Any projections on the future are mere speculation.
However, to prepare for whatever is ahead of us, we as the Church need to begin seriously thinking about how we ought to respond each and every time we see victims of real persecution.
Let me give a little more context to who I am and what I do. I am a missionary working in East Africa and one of my main jobs is to actively help the persecuted Church. I have not only been able to assist others who have been persecuted, but I too have also witnessed and experienced persecution first hand. Having seen persecution up close, I must make one thing very clear: under no circumstances should we ever use other people’s suffering – especially for the sake of Christ – as a catalyst or opportunity for us to push our political agendas or as an opportunity for sharing the very best videos from our particular side of the aisle.
Persecution has real consequences. We often praise the people who have gone through it, but we ourselves avoid it like the plague. Why? Because it hurts. Go visit the home of anyone who lost a loved one in Sutherland Springs this last week, and you will immediately feel the weight of their loss. Go to the families of those famous Coptic Christians who were infamously killed on the beaches of Libya, and you will hear of their heart ache.
Yet in spite of the heavy weight of persecution, I hear Christians talk so often as if persecution itself was a gift from God. No! Absolutely not.
Persecution is what happens when depraved people with flawed moral compasses stand against what God is doing in the world.
I personally do not believe persecution by itself has ever furthered the cause of Christ. I believe that it is the Holy Spirit working through His beloved and spurring the Church on in order that we might respond in a way that is otherworldly which truly furthers the kingdom of Heaven. It is how we respond to those who persecute us, and it is how we take care of fellow believers who are going through persecution, that sets us apart from the world and makes what we have contagious. It is when the Church, despite persecution, continues to be the Church that we make the biggest difference for the cause of Christ.
For example, at the beginning of Acts, chapter 8, we see that Saul caused the entire church to be scattered abroad. They mourned for Stephen because persecution is tragic. However, here is the amazing thing: the church did not go into hiding. They did not tame their approach to preaching, or stop praying for the healing of the sick. They just continued doing what they had always been doing. When they were persecuted they did not seek self-preservation, but rather continued to preach reconciliation between Christ and a fallen humanity. Will we as the Church seek to do the same? Are we willing to count the cost of being on the front lines? Do we even want to risk being engaged in loving a world that will most likely betray and attack us for doing good, like it betrayed and crucified Jesus?
I would like to present two practical ways whereby we can make a difference in the lives of our persecuted brothers and sisters in both the United States and around the world.
First, in our own country, we need to actively seek ways to connect with and encourage any church, any time they are attacked.
Find the church on Facebook or the internet, and find their local address. Write to them or to other churches in the community who are in close fellowship or proximity to the church affected. This way you can see what ways you or your church might be able to help. Do not assume to know how you can help, as you might be adding to the heartache and confusion, and meeting a need that is not real or not felt at that current moment.
Second, we need to get connected to groups like Voice of the Martyrs to help encourage the Church universal outside the USA.
Groups like theirs can help connect us to suffering believers who we would otherwise not know and not have a way to help. Many of these believers are on the front lines and face real persecution on a daily basis. Though persecution scatters them, they continue to preach and bring healing to the communities they live in. At the very least, our connection to them will transform how we view suffering in light of eternity.
The Church has the incredible privilege to know God and to make Him known. Through the covenants He made with His people, we now get to be a part of His work. As a result, the body of Christ, the local church, gets to be tangibly used by Him, in a way that transforms the lives of hurting people in our world.